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In the Loop

Wanted: A Handle for the Scandal

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 4, 2005; Page A17

Just a few months ago, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) looked to be in fine shape to weather a new round of allegations that he'd run afoul of House ethics rules.

After all, House Republicans had neatly disemboweled the ethics committee, not known as a den of pit bulls to begin with; gotten rid of that annoying Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who tended to take his duties seriously; and changed the rules to make it easier to dismiss complaints.

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Republicans, with a well-deserved reputation for being far more loyal to their leaders than Democrats are to theirs, seemed steadfast in their support for DeLay.

But in a stunning about-face -- not to mention a show of disloyalty to the beleaguered majority leader -- the new rules have been rescinded and it appears the committee is going to investigate DeLay's fine golf trip to Scotland (allegedly funded via tribal casino money), a visit to Taiwan and another to Russia.

This could mean months of investigation. Which means months of leaks and counter-leaks in glorious Washington tradition. It also means the "scandal" needs a name. Yes, Loop Fans can help! Name this scandal!

Names ending in -gate, while not banned, will start with a 10-point penalty. Themes could include golf, casinos, Native Americans, Scotland, travel, termites, and hammers and other household tools.

For example, a colleague suggested "Agua Caliente," meaning hot water. It also is the name of a tribe -- the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, casino folks and owners of about 6,700 acres of what became Palm Springs, Calif. -- that is a former client of DeLay's close pal Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who is also under a bit of scrutiny these days.

Send your entry -- and rationale -- via e-mail to intheloop@washpost.comor mail to In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Deadline is midnight May 13. Top 10 winners get a still-rare, highly coveted In the Loop T-shirt. Entries on background are welcome, but everyone MUST include telephone numbers to be eligible.

Time Warp?

This week marks the fifth anniversary of State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher's tenure at the lectern, setting a record for continuous service as top flack at Foggy Bottom.

Associated Press reporter George Gedda, a three-decade-or-so veteran of covering the department, noted that "five years ago . . . you said that if the United States can successfully address nuclear and missile sales with North Korea, we can, quote, 'move into a different kind of relationship with North Korea.' Is that still the view here?"

"That's always been the offer on the table," Boucher said.

"So there's nothing new to say over the past five years?" Gedda asked.

"I'm afraid that I've said a lot of different things over the past five years," Boucher said, ". . . but unfortunately, the change on their part has been less than we had hoped for." On the other hand, he said, at his first briefing 15 years ago, "I think we were talking about Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities. Some things go round and round. Some things change."

When in Rome . . .

Notes from Rome: The U.S. delegation at Pope John Paul II's funeral, headed by President Bush, dined one evening at Ambassador Mel Sembler's residence. Word is that after the meal, Sembler produced a box of fine, but not Cuban, cigars.

Sembler's wife, Betty, said no smoking in the house but the gentlemen could go out on the veranda.

One member of the group said: "But it's the president of the United States."

To which Betty Sembler replied: "But it's my house."

Bush said he understood she had the better case and led the group out to the veranda.

Not So Diplomatic After All

State Department Undersecretary John R. Bolton, nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations, has been accused of some most undiplomatic behavior both in and out of his jobs at the State Department.

But the diplo world, contrary to the movies, is not striped pants and tea. It's often bare-knuckle brawling.

For example, when A. Elizabeth Jones, former assistant secretary of state for Europe, was in Lisbon a couple of years ago, she was asked about former House speaker Newt Gingrich's criticism of State for backing the likes of Syria's Bashar Assad. Jones, who has recently opposed the Bolton nomination, took the gloves off.

"Newt Gingrich does not speak in the name of the Pentagon, and what he said is garbage," she told a Lisbon daily. "What Gingrich says does not interest me. He is an idiot, and you can publish that."

It's a jungle out there.

Moving On . . .

Recently departed commerce secretary Donald L. Evans has landed a fine one. He's the new chief executive of the Financial Services Forum, which includes CEOs of the largest financial institutions in the world. Rob Nichols, former assistant secretary for public affairs at the Treasury Department, has been appointed to serve under Evans as chief operating officer.

Kathryn Lehman, a 15-year Hill veteran who has worked for just about all the GOP leaders in the House, including Gingrich, DeLay, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and now Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (Ohio), is off to the Holland & Knight law firm.

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